New Release Spotlight: September 17, 2019, Part I (YA)

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Because this week’s list is another super-long one, I’m splitting it into three parts again! Today, we’re looking at young adult titles. Wednesday will be the middle grade titles, and Thursday will be for the picture books.

I started with a list of about 25 YA books this week, and I’ve boiled it down to the following eight titles. Of this list of eight, one really sticks out to me as a must-read for librarians. Suggested Reading by Dave Connis is about Clare, a high school student who fights her principal’s “prohibited media” list. Because the library is not allowed to have books like Speak and The Chocolate War, Clare lends books to other students from a secret library in her locker. It’s perfectly-timed for Banned Books Week (not an accident, I’m sure).

Titles with a * received two or more starred professional reviews.

The Liars of Mariposa Island by Jennifer Mathieu

Every year, summer begins when the Callahans arrive on Mariposa Island. That’s when Elena Finney gets to escape her unstable, controlling mother by babysitting for their two children. And the summer of 1986 promises to be extra special when she meets J.C., the new boy in town, whose kisses make Elena feel like she’s been transported to a new world.

Joaquin Finney can’t imagine why anyone would want to come to Mariposa Island. He just graduated from high school and dreams about going to California to find his father and escape his mother’s manipulation.

The Liars of Mariposa Island follows siblings Elena and Joaquin, with flashbacks to their mother’s experience as a teenage refugee fleeing the Cuban revolution.

PAGES: 341
GENRE: realistic fiction
THEMES: Cuba, siblings
READALIKES: Refugee (Gratz), We Were Liars (Lockhart)
STARS AND AWARDS: Booklist starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “A sense of suspense and foreboding will keep readers on their toes and force them to question their own biases and wonder who can truly be trusted.” (Booklist starred review, Aug 2019)

One Person, No Vote: How Not All Voters Are Treated Equally (Young Adult edition) by Carol Anderson (Author) and Tonya Bolden (Author)

A young reader’s adaptation that chronicles the rollbacks to African American participation in the vote since the 2013 Supreme Court decision that eviscerated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Known as the Shelby ruling, this decision effectively allowed districts with a demonstrated history of racial discrimination to change voting requirements without approval from the Department of Justice. Focusing on the aftermath of Shelby, Anderson follows the astonishing story of government-dictated racial discrimination unfolding before our very eyes as more and more states adopt voter suppression laws and explains how voter suppression works, from photo ID requirements to gerrymandering to poll closures.

PAGES: 276
GENRE: narrative nonfiction
THEMES: voting, government, suffrage, African-Americans
READALIKES: White Rage: The Unspoken Truth of Our Racial Divide (Anderson), We Are Not Yet Equal (Anderson)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Bolden’s adaptation will fire up a new generation of civic activists through its gripping presentation. A significant people’s history and call to action for youth.” (Kirkus starred review, 15 Aug 2019)

Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

Juliet Milagros Palante is a self-proclaimed closeted Puerto Rican baby dyke from the Bronx. Only, she’s not so closeted anymore. Not after coming out to her family the night before flying to Portland, Oregon, to intern with her favorite feminist writer–what’s sure to be a life-changing experience. And when Juliet’s coming out crashes and burns, she’s not sure her mom will ever speak to her again.

But Juliet has a plan–sort of. Her internship with legendary author Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff, is sure to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. Except Harlowe’s white. And not from the Bronx. And she definitely doesn’t have all the answers. In a summer bursting with queer brown dance parties, a sexy fling with a motorcycling librarian, and intense explorations of race and identity, Juliet learns what it means to come out–to the world, to her family, to herself.

PAGES: 320
GENRE: realistic fiction
THEMES: LGBT, feminism, internships
READALIKES: Queer Brown Voices (Quesada), Gabi, A Girl in Pieces (Quintero)

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: ” In trying to keep it together, and sometimes succeeding, she comes off as wonderfully human, worrying about her first girlfriend (and maybe her second); her mother’s bad reaction to her coming out; and navigating microaggressions, new ideas, and research before Google.” (Publishers Weekly, 19 Aug 2019)

Becoming Beatriz by Tami Charles

Companion to: Like Vanessa. In 1984 Newark, Beatriz Mendez navigates romance, gang culture, and her family’s past. After her gang-leader brother is killed, Beatriz gives up her dreams of dancing in order to run the gang. But her eyes are reopened to her dream of a career in dance when the school brainiac asks her to compete in a dance competition with him–but will the gang let her go?

GENRE: realistic fiction
THEMES: gangs, violence, grief, dancing, Haitian-Americans, Puerto Rican-Americans
READALIKES: Yaqui Delgado Wants to Kick Your Ass (Medina), Perfect Chemistry (Elkeles), Like Vanessa (Charles)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “As Beatriz transcends her trauma and self-doubt—“No such thing as a gangbanger turned famous dancer”—readers experience a necessary portrayal of a young Afro-Latina woman who makes her own path, one that isn’t straightforward, told in an extremely realistic voice. Inspiring and fresh.” (Kirkus starred, 13 Jul 2019)

*The Stars and the Blackness Between Them by Junauda Petrus

Debut author! Trinidad. Sixteen-year-old Audre is despondent, having just found out she’s going to be sent to live in America with her father because her strictly religious mother caught her with her secret girlfriend, the pastor’s daughter. Audre’s grandmother Queenie (a former dancer who drives a white convertible Cadillac and who has a few secrets of her own) tries to reassure her granddaughter that she won’t lose her roots, not even in some place called Minneapolis. “America have dey spirits too, believe me,” she tells Audre.

Minneapolis. Sixteen-year-old Mabel is lying on her bed, staring at the ceiling and trying to figure out why she feels the way she feels–about her ex Terrell, about her girl Jada and that moment they had in the woods, and about the vague feeling of illness that’s plagued her all summer. Mabel’s reverie is cut short when her father announces that his best friend and his just-arrived-from-Trinidad daughter are coming for dinner.

Mabel quickly falls hard for Audre and is determined to take care of her as she tries to navigate an American high school. But their romance takes a turn when test results reveal exactly why Mabel has been feeling low-key sick all summer and suddenly it’s Audre who is caring for Mabel as she faces a deeply uncertain future.

PAGES: 308
GENRE: realistic fiction, romance
THEMES: illness, LGBT, African-Caribbean Americans, family problems
READALIKES: The Sun Is Also a Star (Yoon), The Miseducation of Cameron Post (Danforth)
STARS AND AWARDS: Booklist starred, Kirkus starred, Publishers Weekly starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Readers seeking a deep, uplifting love story will not be disappointed as the novel covers both flourishing feelings and bigger questions around belief and what happens when we face our own mortality.” (Kirkus starred, 1 Jul 2019)

Suggested Reading by Dave Connis

Clara Evans is horrified when she discovers her principal’s ‘prohibited media’ hit list. The iconic books on the list have been pulled from the library and aren’t allowed anywhere on the school’s premises. Students caught with the contraband will be sternly punished. Many of these stories have changed Clara’s life, so she’s not going to sit back and watch while her draconian principal abuses his power. She’s going to strike back. So Clara starts an underground library in her locker, doing a shady trade in titles like Speak and The Chocolate War. But when one of the books she loves most is connected to a tragedy she never saw coming, Clara’s forced to face her role in it.

PAGES: 390
GENRE: realistic fiction
THEMES: censorship, banned books, fighting against authority
READALIKES: Americus (Reed), Whale Talk (Crutcher), The Catcher in the Rye (Salinger)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Wry, thought-provoking, rebellious, and predicated on the belief that the right book changes everything. This book is a school librarians’ dream, and the well-told story of a frustrated teen fighting for social justice will be a hit with young people, too.” (SLJ, 1 Jul 2019)

*Snowflake, AZ by Marcus Sedgwick

Ash boards a Greyhound bus heading to the place where Bly was last seen: Snowflake, Arizona. Six thousand feet up in the wide red desert, Ash meets Mona, her dog, her goat, and her neighbors, and finds stepbrother Bly, too.

In their ramshackle homes, the walls lined with tinfoil, almost all the residents of Snowflake are sick. But this isn’t any ordinary sickness: the chemicals and technologies of modern life are poisoning them. They call themselves canaries, living warning signs that humans have pushed the environment too far, except no one seems to be taking their warnings seriously. The healthy “normies” of Snowflake have written them off as a bunch of eccentrics, and when Ash too falls ill, the doctor’s response is “It’s all in your mind.”

Snowflake, AZ contemplates illness and health–both our own and our planet’s. As Ash lives through a cycle of illness and recovery and loss, the world beyond is succumbing to its own affliction: a breakdown of civilization only distantly perceived by Ash and the isolated residents of Snowflake, from which there may or may not be a chance for recovery.

PAGES: 302
GENRE: dystopia
THEMES: environmental disaster, illness
READALIKES: Dry (Shusterman), A World Without Fish (Kurlansky)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred, Publishers Weekly Annex starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Expert foreshadowing pulls readers along to unavoidable disaster; when the blows arrive, they land with a visceral punch. Sedgwick’s restraint is remarkable, and he achieves something special with the raw, vulnerable humanity he reveals through these characters.” (Kirkus starred review, 15 Jul 2019)

*Red at the Bone: A Novel by Jacqueline Woodson

An unexpected teenage pregnancy pulls together two families from different social classes, and exposes the private hopes, disappointments, and longings that can bind or divide us from each other…As the book opens in 2001, it is the evening of sixteen-year-old Melody’s coming of age ceremony in her grandparents’ Brooklyn brownstone. Watched lovingly by her relatives and friends, making her entrance to the music of Prince, she wears a special custom-made dress. But the event is not without poignancy. Sixteen years earlier, that very dress was measured and sewn for a different wearer: Melody’s mother, for her own ceremony– a celebration that ultimately never took place.

PAGES: 196
RECOMMENDED FOR: Adults (but I think this is great for HS)
GENRE: realistic fiction
THEMES: family, teen pregnancy
READALIKES: The Joy Luck Club (Tan)
STARS AND AWARDS: Kirkus starred, Publishers Weekly starred

WHAT THE REVIEWS SAY: “Woodson’s nuanced voice evokes the complexities of race, class, religion, and sexuality in fluid prose and a series of telling details. This is a wise, powerful, and compassionate novel.” (Publishers Weekly, 15 Jul 2019)



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  • Thank you so very much for the suggestions. These sound like wonderful books to add to my order for this year.

  • I’m so excited for The Liars of Mariposa Island by Jennifer Mathieu!!! I already had my copy ordered from a store in Houston so Jennifer would sign it! WOOT! I’ve read all her books and love them all. I’m a total fangirl … how can you not of someone who still teaches and writes novels?

    • I am 100% in awe of people who teach and still manage to write novels. Especially when they write really good novels! Does Jennifer Mathieu live in Houston? Is that why she was able to sign it for you from that store?


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